Monday, February 07, 2005

India & SAARC: Tough Love or Dadagiri?

Responding to our post Canceling SAARC was the Right Move, Rezwan calls India's aggressive attitude dadagiri. We think such reaction merits a broader discussion about how India should deal with its neighbors.

We have repeatedly called for India to forcibly drag a reluctant, and likely incapable by itself, South Asia into political modernity and have cited writings on this point. This aggressiveness would be good for the people of these nations, and it would be good for India's political, military, and economic security.

In this process, if we are to break a few eggs, so be it. When the peril to democracy and political liberty in our region becomes a clear & present threat, our neighbors' feelings are hardly that important. India should no longer accept dysfunctional conduct by them -- they must, at minimum, make serious commitments to raising the quality of their shattered polities to India's standards.

Rezwan ignores weakness in the region's liberty record, then calls India's own lapses into the discussion. This, of course, assumes that India and its smaller neighbors are at the same geo-political level. Lets be clear, they are not. For all its lapses, India stands heads & shoulders above the rest of the region; besides it is the big dog here -- and let no one forget this.

For a long time we held the view that, being the big dog, India needs to go the extra mile in relations with its neighbors. But this assumed that the neighbors would walk at least a few inches our way. They have not done so -- and then have blamed India for their colossal, and shameful, failures. Its time for these nations, sovereign though they may be, to quit sulking, to own up to their own self-manufactured ills, and to stop blaming India for their own perennial foolishness.

To those who disagree with this, lets ask what these neighbors have done for India? Sri Lanka's civil war led to the assassination of an Indian Prime Minister -- we have remained unable to bring the killer Velupillai Pirabhakaran to justice. Bangladesh, who we liberated, has paid us back through effectively a covert war -- the export of tens of millions of its citizens illegally into India (read Arun Shourie's brilliant book Governance for details). Nepal is now a failed State -- a haven for murderous Maoist ideologies much as Talibani Afghanistan was to Al Qaeda; this garbage is now spilling into India. Our sorrows with Pakistan are well chronicled and do not merit repeating.

This leaves tiny Bhutan and Maldives. Well, at least the former helped India kill and maim ULFA terrorists -- so we'll show it the respect it has earned. The latter is not a threat (although its links to Saudi Arabia need close watch) but it isn't a warm friend either.

Where does this leave us? 4 of 7 SAARC nations have brought tragedy upon India, 1 has helped us, and 1 is too small to offend us even if it tried. Is this not finally time for our neighbors to ask what they have done for India (any small thing at all would have been nice, but no good deed is in evidence) -- rather than constantly harping about what India has done for them?

So, in closing, here is the tough love message that an increasing number of Indians would like to offer our neighbors: We respect your sovereignty, but you need to appreciate we are the top dog. We'll let you have your space, but don't cross our red lines. Your internal affairs are your matter, but when you move to crush democracy or are incapable of modern governance, they are our matters too. Finally, we're open to doing business with you, but you need to get over your existential angst and stop defining yourself as India's victims -- we don't appreciate this falsehood at all.

1 comment:

Rezwan said...

The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well being of others.Instead of trying to be assertive, India's last minute decision was rather aggressive, which ignored the Bangladesh expenditures for preparation ($2 million) and inconvenience of thousands of people. That is more than a few eggs I suppose. India should have shown the courtesy of calling the contact person in Bangladesh and discuss the reasons behind the Indian decision instead of breaking the news in NDTV.

I see the beginning of the end of SAARC in this.

I hope all your barking is worse than your bite.